Byron Buxton returns to CF for the Twins. Knee trouble kept him from playing defense for 554 days

Updated Feb. 27, 2024 6:47 p.m. ET

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Byron Buxton patrolled center field for the Minnesota Twins for the first time in 554 days.

Healthy after two consecutive seasons ended with knee surgeries, the 2022 All-Star made his spring training debut at bat and, most importantly, in the field as the Twins tied the Philadelphia Phillies 3-3 Tuesday.

Aside from a seven-inning appearance with Triple-A St. Paul on a rehabilitation assignment last summer, Buxton hadn’t played center field since injuring himself while diving for a ball on Aug. 22, 2022.

The 2017 Rawlings Platinum Glove winner — given to the best overall defender in each league — appeared in 85 games for the Twins in 2023, but only as a designated hitter because his right knee wasn’t healthy.


He didn’t make a catch on Tuesday, only fielding two balls hit in his direction, but that wasn't the point.

“Great to see him flying around the field. He’s looked good all spring,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He looks strong and he looks explosive right now. Good day for him and a good day for all of us.”

The 30-year-old Buxton has not appeared in 100 games since 2017, when he played in 140 games. The second overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft made his major league debut in 2015 and has not made it through a full season without landing on the injured list.

His body feeling good for the first time in two years, there’s been plenty of fun experienced by Buxton early in camp. After batting .207 with 17 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .731 OPS in 304 plate appearances last season, Buxton said he’s 100 percent healthy after doctors removed the plica tissue last October, eliminating the pain he likened to a knife stabbing his kneecap.

Whether dominating teammates during wind sprints, taking live batting practice, shagging fly balls or simply participating in a normal schedule, Buxton has spent the first week-plus of spring training showing off this good health at every turn.

Though he originally expected to feel anxious about playing in the outfield, Buxton said he was nerve-free. The Phillies hit a pair of line drives directly at Twins outfielders in the first inning, one to each side of Buxton. He didn’t receive his first chance at a ball until Rodolfo Castro singled with two outs in the third inning. Trea Turner followed with an opposite-field double to right-center that Buxton raced down and quickly fired back in, a ball he might have laid out for during the regular season.

“I have a chance at all of them,” said Buxton, who went 0 for 2 at the plate. “I’m not going to dive in spring training. But yeah, that was fun.”

Buxton will receive two days off from game action until the Twins return home to Hammond Stadium on Friday, Baldelli said. From there, Buxton is expected to play on a normal schedule.

The Twins acquired outfielder Manuel Margot on Monday from the Los Angeles Dodgers for another right-handed hitter and added flexibility, including a trusted backup for Buxton in center field should he need a rest or encounter more trouble.

For now, Buxton is just taking his spring training one day at a time.

“I just want to go with the flow,” Buxton said. “If I’m in, I’m happy. If I’m not, I’m on the back fields hitting. I’ll still be able to get my work in either way. But for sure, definitely playing a lot more games this year.”